Jin dynasty Wang Xizhi (ca. 303-361)

Clearing After Snowfall

Clearing After Snowfall

  • Jin Dynasty Album leaf, ink on paper 
  • 23 x 14.8 cm

Wang Xizhi, whose ancestors came from Shandong, was born into a noble family. At the end of the Western Jin (265-316), he accompanied his father and fled south, eventually serving as General of the Right and Censor of Kuaiji. Sometime between 345 and 356, he retired from office and traveled the land with other refugees.

Wang Xizhi was versed in poetry, music, and calligraphy. He studied the works of all the masters from old to new and frequently changed his models, expanding his repertoire in the process. He was especially gifted in the study of script forms. He took different brush styles, such as Jin dynasty (221-206 BC) seal and Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) clerical script, and fused them with standard, running, and cursive scripts to create an ideal calligraphy form. Therefore, later generations in the Tang dynasty (618-907) praised him as "taking the best of all styles and compiling them into one to become the master of all time." For this reason, he is known as the Sage Calligrapher.

In this short letter done in running script, Wang Xizhi sends greetings to a friend after a snowfall. The Ming dynasty connoisseur Zhan Jingfeng (1520-1602) pointed out that the round, forceful, elegant nature of the brushwork here has a leisurely spirit that influenced the running script of Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322), a dominant calligrapher in the Yuan dynasty. In fact, during the Yuan dynasty, it was in private hands before entering the imperial collection, where Zhao Mengfu and others were ordered by the emperor to inscribe it in the Yen-yu era (1314-1320) of Emperor Renzong. Much of the brushwork here appears round and blunt, and the dots and hooked strokes do not reveal the tip of the brush. The characters are even and balanced, revealing a straightforward elegance and introverted harmony. The Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795) in the Qing dynasty especially prized this work, praising it as "The one and only; a masterpiece for all time." In 1747, he had it and "Mid-Autumn" by Wang Xizhi's son (Wang Xianzhi) and "Po-yuan" by Wang Xun mounted together to form what he called "the three treasures." They were housed in a special building called "The Three Treasures Hall."